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Sufi soul

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At the Ruhaniyat Music Festival in Chennai.

Parvati Baul performs at the Ruhaniyat music festival in Chennai - SHAJU JOHN
Parvati Baul performs at the Ruhaniyat music festival in Chennai - SHAJU JOHN

Sandhya Abraham

On a pleasant February evening the lawns at the Madras Race Club resounded with soul-stirring sufi music, as the Ruhaniyat Music Festival took listeners on a journey of spiritual ecstasy. This was the second successive year that the Banyan Tree brought the festival for the music connoisseurs of Chennai. Banyan Tree Events, a premier cultural organisation, promotes offbeat performing art forms from India and other countries. From large-scale world-class presentations to the more intimate

baithaks

, the decade-old company provides a platform for unique creative concepts.

Ruhaniyat, as the festival is named, is an Urdu word meaning `soulfulness' and is the brainchild of Mahesh Babu and Nandini Mahesh, the Directors of Banyan Tree. The event featured the best of maestros in classical, folk and sufi music, discovered from the interiors of remote Indian villages. The duo, assisted by a team of committed workers, have, with efforts spanning nearly two decades, brought recognition to traditional Indian performing art.

From the sand dunes of Rajasthan and Kutch there was Kachra Khan singing compositions by Bulle Shah, the 18th-century Punjabi Sufi poet; the powerful voice of Suguna Devi rendering Kalbeliya songs; and there was Siraiqi music a blend of Multani, Sindhi and Punjabi, from as far as the Indo-Pakistan border. The folk-music based Jikir - Jari Sufi compositions of Azan Fakir of Manipur, dating back to the 13th century, were mellifluously rendered by Hafiza Begum Chaudhury and her troupe. Kabirpanthis Prahlad Tippania and group from Devas in Madhya Pradesh followers of the teachings of saint Kabir, invoked the elusive divinity that needs to be awakened within each one of us. A nightlong session of Jagar music (performed by Rakesh Bhatt and his group) an integral feature of rural Uttaranchal, it was claimed, could culminate in one of the performers being possessed by the family spirit, that could provide answers to life's riddles that transcend the tangible and the obvious.

Parvati Baul, the acclaimed Baul performer from West Bengal, gave a stunning rendition. Drawing parallels with the Sidha music of Tamil Nadu, Parvati grasped the connection between the two schools the belief that man is but a puppet and it is He who pulls the strings. The world-renowned Shameem-Nayeem Ajmeri brothers and their group brought this journey of surrender, love and wisdom to an end with the rendition of Sufi Qawaalis, a form of devotional music known for its secular strains. What made each performance special and unique was the dextrous and energetic play of traditional local musical instruments, the

ektara

,

sarangi

,

tambura

,

been

,

dholak

,

dhuggi

, and castanets a wide and impressive list.

Ruhaniyat keeps its date each year between November and March with the intensely moved and overwhelmingly appreciative audience in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Pune, Chennai and Hyderabad.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated March 2, 2007)
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